Punjab’s politics of defiance

With the Supreme Court responding to the presidential reference and >terming illegal the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004, politics in the State has predictably acquired a defiant edge. Amarinder Singh, who was Chief Minister when the legislation was passed more than a decade ago in order to deny the neighbouring States their determined share of river waters, lost no time in announcing his resignation as a member of the Lok Sabha and that of all Congress MLAs from the Punjab Assembly. As an act of protest it has an absurd edge, but with Assembly elections due in early 2017, the party obviously wants to raise the stakes by identifying itself with the emotive water issue. In fact, it allows Mr. Singh the ideal launch pad to take on not just the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government, but also the Congress campaign strategist, Prashant Kishor, with whom he has been at odds. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had upped the ante earlier this year by shepherding a law in the Assembly to return to the original owners land acquired decades ago for the Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal meant to enable sharing of river waters. Even as the State Governor refrained from giving consent to the legislation, bulldozers were employed to fill part of the canal with uprooted trees and soil to mark the Punjab government’s defiance. In response to the Supreme Court’s advisory on the 2004 law, Mr. Badal has called a session of the presumably Congress-less Assembly.

If there is a case for recalculating what may be a fair sharing of river waters given the changes in water availability, then Punjab’s government and politicians are unwilling to even consider this. It is an all-or-nothing game in an election season in which the established political coordinates have been scrambled. Over the past couple of decades, Punjab politics had settled into a two-party/alliance dynamic, the Congress versus SAD-BJP. The 2014 Lok Sabha election changed that, with the Aam Aadmi Party taking four of the 13 seats. The implication of the AAP record for the Assembly elections is not clear, whether it was a one-off that put the older parties on notice, or whether it signalled a search for a party that would break the State’s fossilised, often vengeful, politics that has eschewed attention to grassroots issues of agrarian distress, drug addiction, corruption, and discrimination. It is unclear whether the SAD’s or the Congress’s high defiance on water agreements will help them electorally in this landscape. But it would amount to further undermining the larger national profile that both Mr. Badal and Mr. Singh have built over the decades if they rallied passions so irresponsibly.

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Printable version | Sep 17, 2021 3:54:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Punjab%E2%80%99s-politics-of-defiance/article16444501.ece

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